Love and Olive Oil

Cupcake Tips & Tools

I often get asked how I decorate my cupcakes. So I figured a post dedicated to the ‘how’ of it all was in order. However, to be honest, I don’t think it is something that can be taught. It’s a matter of practice. Get yourself a plate or silicone mat, and a vat of buttercream, and go at it. Fill your piping bag with frosting, and create swirl after swirl on the plate. When it’s full, simply scrape off the buttercream, refill your bag, and repeat. I’m serious here. You need to figure out for yourself what is comfortable as far as holding the piping bag, and become familiar with the proper pressure and motion you need to use to create that perfect buttercream swirl.

As with many things, the right tools make all the difference. You’re not going to be able to achieve a big and beautiful swirl if your piping tip is too small. No practice can help that.

The Tools for Decorating Cupcakes

A few of my favorite and most useful tools (clockwise from left):

1. Piping bag. I have a few different piping bags, but I use this 14″ professional pastry bag more than any other. It’s just the right size for frosting a dozen cupcakes, and the poly canvas is a great texture to work with (that gets softer each and every time you use it). I have two, one with a larger opening for the jumbo tips, and one with a smaller opening for more dainty decorations. You can choose to use a coupler if you like (keep in mind the jumbo tips require jumbo couplers), though for the larger tips I find it unnecessary and just more to wash (and possibly lose).

2. Piping tips. The right tip makes all the difference. These jumbo tips are perfect for cupcakes. Play around with different shapes and find the one you like best. I personally love the Closed Star Tip, demonstrated below, which I use for just about all of my cupcakes. The large round is also a favorite, especially for mini cupcakes.

3. Spatula. If I could only have one spatula for the rest of my life, this would be it. It’s a half-sized spatula from Le Creuset. The perfect size to make loading your piping bag a breeze. Not to mention it’s turquoise, and that makes me happy.

4. Flower veiner. If you want to make perfect blossoms out of fondant, gumpaste, or marzipan (as seen here or here), these silicone molds are amazing. For larger flowers, I use this Blossom set (pictured – which includes a flower cutter as well), or for smaller buds this Five Petal Press set.

5. Cupcake wrappers. Be warned. Once you see all the adorable cupcake wrappers available at Bake it Pretty, you’ll need to dedicate and entire drawer to them. It’s an obsession I tell you.

6. Sprinkles. Because sprinkles make everything better. There are lots of sprinkles available at Bake it Pretty, including the White Pearlized Jimmies pictured above.

7. Food coloring. Want pretty buttercream? These Americolor gel food colorings will give you beautifully bold colors with just a drop or two.

8. Cupcake scoop. Maybe the best $15 you’ll ever spend. This large scoop from Pampered Chef doles out the perfect (and I mean PERFECT) portion for a standard size cupcake. No more overfilled cups. Also check out the small scoop, which, coincidentally, is the perfect size for mini cupcakes.

Jumbo Closed Star Tip for Frosting Cupcakes

The Closed Star Tip, my personal favorite for frosting cupcakes. I know a lot of the pros use the jumbo round tips, but for the life of me I can never seem to get a round tip to produce anything short of a pile of poop. Sorry, but it’s true. For that reason I stick to my star tip.

How To Frosting Buttercream Cupcake Swirls

Beyond getting ahold of the right tools, you’re on your own. As I mentioned above, practice really does make (almost) perfect. But, to get you started, I thought actually seeing a swirl or two couldn’t hurt. Keep in mind I am self-trained here. This is the technique I picked up after frosting dozens and dozens of cupcakes. You may find your swirls look better when piped differently. You’ll get different results if you start the swirl in the center (more of a rose like effect rather than a towering swirl) instead of the edge. You’ll see different patterns depending on the angle at which you hold the piping bag, the pressure you put on it, and the speed at which you move. So many variables I can’t even begin to describe. Again, it’s just a matter of practicing. It’s not like having dozens of ugly practice cupcakes sitting around is a bad thing, either. :)

My swirls are far from perfect. They are often uneven, too tall, or lopsided. I haven’t yet mastered the ‘end’ or ‘tip’ of the swirl, getting that perfect point to top it all off. As it stands, these cupcakes need a topper like a flower or cherry to disguise the rough break in the buttercream. This has a lot to do with the consistency of the buttercream—meringue buttercreams will usually give you nicer ends than American buttercream. Always a work in progress!

Jumbo Piping Tips for Cupcake Decorating

And now that we’ve discussed tools and techniques, it’s time for a giveaway! As you’ve probably noticed if you clicked any of the links above, I am a huge fan of Bake it Pretty. It’s a bakers paradise, with just about everything you need to make gorgeous cupcakes, candies, and more. Lucky for you folks, Amanda has generously donated one of her very popular Best Ever Cupcake Icing Kits (so popular in fact, that they sold out before I had a chance to write this post prior to Christmas – I’ve been waiting patiently since then for the kits to be restocked). Each kit includes a 14″ professional pastry bag, four jumbo piping tips perfect for buttercream swirls of all shapes and sizes, as well as a tips & instructions card to help you get started.

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  1. I super heart your blog. In fact, I made 250 cupcakes for a wedding in August and I totally stole your cupcake stand idea from your wedding! It worked out really nicely and all of the cupcakes were gone before 11pm. It was amazing! I would love to try your piping tips. I love how well your cupcakes are always frosted!

  2. Mmmm. Cupcakes!

  3. What a fantastic giveaway! I would LOVE to win this!!
    Cupcakes make everything better!

  4. I LOVE that you have found your go-to recipes for vanilla and chocolate cupcakes and shared them with the world. I’m still searching for mine and definitely plan to test yours out soon!

  5. Gotta love the cupcakes! Thanks for the give-a-way offer!

  6. this is a wonderful idea.

  7. mmm…cupcakes with pretty icing swirls

  8. What a great giveaway. This is my first comment…love your blog!

  9. oh my what a wonderful gift this would be!!

  10. I personally think your frosting technique is fab. Great giveaway. I am ready to be a cupcake queen!

  11. I’d love to have this kit, i’m in the process of figuring out my “signature” cupcake swirl.

  12. How pretty! I love those Le Creuset spatulas!

  13. I too LOVE bakeitpretty. I’ve never found so many cute cupcake wrappers in one place. Especially the greaseproof ones. The fluorescent orange ones even withstand a dark chocolate batter! They really are an addiction.

  14. I just tried using a piping bag this week for the first time – it wasn’t perfect, but i think it turned out ok, don’t you.
    Loving the tutorial though. If only i had seen it last week, then my housemates wouldn’t have had to eat so many of the reject cakes! hehe.

  15. Thanks for the tips and I hope I win!

  16. This totally works out for me (assuming I am chosen, at least) since Ive been looking for some piping bags and tips. Oh, I hope, I hope!

    Everything else is also fabulous. I love the turquoise spatula. You can never have to much colour~

  17. Love making cupcakes…one of my favorites for fall is your own pumpkin spice cupcakes with cinammon rum icing, yummy!

  18. THANK YOU!!

    When you posted the Balsamic Raspberry Cupcakes, I just had to try them out. I was really proud of how tasty they turned out (baking is, er, not exactly my forté), and I wanted to make a blog post about it but I was less-than-proud at my sad use-a-butterknife icing technique. Yours looked so pretty, and mind looked sad.
    My brother gave me an icing kit for Christmas so I could make non-poopy cupcakes, and I’ve been dying to use it but I wasn’t sure where to begin. Thanks for posting this tutorial!! I would honestly never have thought to practice on anything but real lifve cupcakes, and I probably would have been disappointed when my first attempts failed, so thanks for all the tips!

  19. Oh how I would love to have that kit!! It would make my cupcake frosting so much easier and quicker! Pick me!! :)

  20. Also, sharing on FB now!

  21. I remember a time in my life when I did not have a desperate, visceral need for cupcake decorating accessories. Happily, that time is not now.

  22. *sigh* who doesn’t love cupcakes? :)

  23. Oh! I want one! Looks awesome!

  24. I saw that cupcake kit on Bake It Pretty as well and am hoping to buy it soon. I need lots of practice piping; my cupcakes never look pretty! Thanks for the great idea to practice on a mat!

  25. I LOVE making cupcakes, and make them enough that my sons first phrase was “I want more cupcake”

  26. Hi Lindsay! Your cupcakes are always a hit when I make them for any occasion. I posted this giveaway in my Facebook (link above).

  27. I could practice till I was blue in the face, and never be as good as you!

    Great post! And tell Taylor I said great job on the camera work! I loved the YouTube video. (if it was him that recorded it)

  28. Those giant frosting tips are heaven sent – I’ve been coveting them for months!

    PS – here’s my tweet love:

  29. What a great tutorial and info for the cupcake lover! I love bake it pretty….they have some very unique items. I also am a huge fan of the oversized tips….and have lost a few to the garbage disposal so I would love to win some more! Thx for the great post and the giveaway opportunity!

  30. amazing! i love bake it pretty!
    my icing tips have been bashed about so much (i just moved house) i keep getting the weirdest results! new ones would make my smile the biggest ever!

  31. Funny thing-I have been working on using the star tip on my cupcakes all weekend…trying to get them close to perfect for a baby shower this week! I’m with you on the round tip-can’t get it to work. Maybe one day. Great giveaway!

  32. Thank you, thank you for pointing me in the direction of Bake It Pretty! What a wonderful site — and what a wonderful post here on Love and Olive Oil!

  33. i looove bake it pretty!

  34. I too, adore Bake it Pretty! I recently purchased the houndstooth cupcake cups (among other delightful things) for a stylish baby shower I’m planning for my best friend.. Superb giveaway! Thank you!

  35. today is my birthday ! :) i want to your giveaway is my birthday gift :))))

  36. I, too, have become quite a fan of Bake It Pretty! I’m planning on making some snowflake themed cupcakes with the last order I placed. By the way, the star tip is my favorite, too! :)

  37. What a great, fun giveaway!
    I retweeted this info so everyone can learn of this sweet shop:

  38. I need to try these different tips for decorating my cupcakes!

  39. This is such a great giveaway!! I love baking for my children and this would be great for making them special cupcakes. Thank you!

  40. Great timing…I am in the market for a new pastry tip, as my SO just “misplaced” my old favorite one! Love the Bake it Pretty website and you blog is fantastic for inspiration!

  41. my daughter is so into baking cupcakes and learning about different ways to frost them, this would be perfect for her

  42. What a beautiful set, and giveaway! I always love the way your creations look, and would to have the opportunity to attempt something even half as lovely! thanks for hosting this :)

  43. Thanks for the tips!

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